Analysis: The presidency hasn't changed Donald Trump

Trump tweets insults at MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski
Trump tweets insults at MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski

Five months into his presidency, Donald Trump is still the same old Donald Trump.

The "dignity of the office" does not seem to concern him. He is distracted from immense responsibilities by personal grievances. And he still believes it is acceptable to publicly degrade women based on their physical appearance.

Even after 160 days as president, Trump has not changed his priorities or his sense of proportion when it comes to personal slights. He can not help attacking his critics in the media, even if those attacks reflect negatively on him, distract attention away from his executive and legislative efforts, and threaten his legacy.

On Thursday, in response to criticism from MSNBC co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the president tweeted, "I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!"

Related: Trump tweets shocking assault on Brzezinski, Scarborough

The vulgar attack, which drew criticism from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and several Republican Senators, as well as a number of Democrats, served as a potent example of the president's temperament. Unlike his predecessors, Trump seems unconcerned with taking the moral high ground and staying above the fray. When his critics go low, the president seemed to indicate Thursday, he will go lower.

The tweets also showed how Trump's unbridled tweeting can get in the way of his own stated political ambitions. When Trump published his tweets, shortly before 9 a.m. ET, Senate Republicans were wrestling with legislation to repeal Obamacare, the House was preparing to vote on two bills likely to advance Trump's immigration agenda, and the president himself was just an hour-and-a-half away from an intelligence briefing that, given ongoing international events, was likely to focus on security concerns in Syria and North Korea.

Health care reform, immigration reform and national security were key focuses of Trump's presidential campaign, and remain areas of significant concern to Trump's supporters and Americans generally. But instead of using his powerful Twitter account to drive attention toward these issues, the president sought public revenge against cable television personalities he claims not to watch.

The justification given by deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders amounted to she did it first.

"This is a president who fights fire with fire," she told Fox News. "[He will not] be bullied by liberal media or liberal elites in Hollywood or anywhere else."

Brzezinski has been an outspoken critic of Trump -- on Thursday, she called him a liar who was destroying the country -- but what confounded many politicians and members of the media was why one cable news host's criticism was the fire the president of the United States felt the need to fight, and why he felt the need to fight it with gasoline instead of water.

"Please explain how the president of the United States can be 'bullied' by the hosts of what he says it is a low-rated cable TV show?" Fox News political analyst Brit Hume tweeted. "Absurd."

The president's attacks on Brzezinski also served as a litmus test of what Republicans, conservative pundits and members of Trump's own family were willing to tolerate from the president in terms of his remarks about women.

House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's remarks inappropriate. Republican Senator Susan Collins called for "respect and civility," and her colleagues Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham said Trump's comments were beneath the dignity of his office. Even the usually pro-Trump conservative pundit Laura Ingraham stressed the need for "message discipline" from the White House.

But Trump's most loyal supporters reliably circled the wagons.

"Maybe liberal Joe should stop calling the @POTUS a schmuck, a liar, a thug and mentally unhinged," Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted. On his radio show, he called the media "crybabies," even as he acknowledged Trump's tweets may not have been in his best interest.

First Lady Melania Trump, who has said she wants to make combating cyberbullying a focus of her time in the White House, was similarly supportive. "As the First Lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder," her communications director said in a statement.

Related: 'Donald Trump is not well': Brzezinski and Scarborough respond

On Friday morning, Brzezinski and Scarborough issued their own response.

"President Trump launched personal attacks against us Thursday, but our concerns about his unmoored behavior go far beyond the personal," the co-hosts wrote in a Washington Post column. "America's leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president. We have our doubts, but we are both certain that the man is not mentally equipped to continue watching our show, 'Morning Joe.'"

The pair also wrote that, earlier this year, "top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas."

Trump hit back: "Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for first time in long time," he tweeted Friday morning. "FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show."

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